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Does Stainless Steel Cookware Rust?

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Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.

By Rachel Baron
Nov 7, 2023
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Despite the name, stainless steel isn’t quite immune to rusting, even if the chances are relatively slim compared to other metals. But we’re not here to cause a panic—instead, this guide is meant to explain the science behind a rusty stainless steel pan, and how you can prevent it from happening.

And just in case it does happen, we’ve included a couple of fail-proof methods for restoring your pan to its shiny best.

Do Stainless Steel Pans Rust?

A stack of stainless steel frying pans with metal handles.

One of the key components of stainless steel—and the main reason for the name—is the inclusion of the mineral chromium. When chromium oxidizes, it creates chromium oxide, which forms a protective barrier against rust, corrosion, and staining. Chromium can only keep your pan safe if it’s intact, so if your pan has started to develop rusty spots, there’s a very good chance that this barrier has been damaged somehow.

Why Does This Happen?

Basically, a problem arises when the protective chromium oxide barrier gets severely scratched or corroded, either by metal cookware, harsh detergents, or other elements. This exposes the metal to oxygen and water, which causes rust to form.

Pans with a lower chromium percentage are even more vulnerable, hence why we recommend a higher percentage. Cookware with an 18/10 ratio of chromium to nickel, for example, is especially tough and corrosion-proof.

How to Clean Rust Spots on Stainless Steel Cookware

stainless steel on electric cooktop

While ominous-looking, rust isn’t a death knell for your favorite piece of shiny cookware. Here are two options for buffing away rust, both of which use ingredients you already have in your cupboard. For both methods, just make sure your pan is completely cool to the touch before cleaning.

The Baking Soda Method

  1. Sprinkle baking soda over the rusty areas of your pan, then add enough warm water to form a paste.
  2. Using either a toothbrush or the coarse side of a sponge, work the paste into the rusty spots, continuing to scrub until the pan is rust-free.
  3. Rinse your pan out, washing with warm water and dish soap before drying.

The Vinegar Method

  1. Add enough distilled white vinegar to your pot or pan to cover the rusty areas, then let sit for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Use a toothbrush or the coarse side of a sponge to scrub the pan until you’ve removed all of the rust.
  3. Wash with warm water and soap, then dry.

How to Prevent Rust on Stainless Steel Cookware

A person is cooking in a pan on a stove using a wooden spatula, with kitchen items and ingredients in the background.

Even the best stainless steel cookware is susceptible to rust if it’s not taken care of properly. Thankfully, this fate is easily preventable. Here are a few tips for keeping your pots and pans looking pristine.

  • Always dry your pan immediately after washing using a soft dish towel or microfiber cloth. Never air dry—this can lead to water spots, and can cause severely scratched pans to rust.
  • If you prefer to stack your pans in a cupboard instead of hanging them up, make sure to place a dish towel, trivet, or other protective layer between each pan to prevent scratching.
  • Invest in high-quality stainless clad cookware—ideally made from 18/10 or 304 stainless steel.
  • Make sure to properly clean your cookware after each use.

Ready to Shop?

Don’t let the thought of rust scare you away from stainless steel cookware. These workhorse pots and pans will last for decades, even with the bare minimum required to maintain them.

We think your pan should do more than just last a long time. With our 5-Ply Stainless Clad cookware collection, your hard work and steady maintenance will be rewarded with crispy eggs, tender fish, and a truly restaurant-quality sear every time.